Cong has questioned why a ASI-maintained national heritage site is being given to a private entity when there is no dearth of funds.
New Delhi: A day after a corporate house signed an agreement for developing tourist-friendly amenities at the iconic Red Fort with the tourism ministry under its “Adopt a Heritage” project, Opposition parties, led by the Congress, on Saturday called it “privatisation of heritage” and questioned how a private entity was given the mandate to maintain a monument under ASI’s protection.
The Opposition accused the government of trying to commercialise everything and asked why the government could not upgrade facilities at the monument itself.
The government on its part dismissed allegations that it was trying to “privatise” heritage, saying that the contract signed with Dalmia Bharat group to co-adopt the 17th century monument does not entail any profit-making activity.
The Dalmia Bharat group, under a memorandum of understanding (MoU), will maintain the monument and build basic infrastructure around it. The company has committed a sum of `25 crore for the purpose over five years.
Qutub Minar in Mehrauli Delhi may also be handed over to a private “monument mitra” (friend of heritage site). Both Red Fort and Qutub Minar annually attract over 25 lakh tourists each.
At a press conference, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said, “They are handing over the iconic monument to a private business. What is your commitment to the idea of India, to the history of India?”
“Do you have dearth of funds? Why funds for the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) lapse..? See the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) reports. If they have paucity of funds, then why do they lapse?” he asked. In the same vein, Trinamul Congress chief
Mamata Banerjee said, “Why can’t the government even take care of our historic Lal Qila? Red Fort is a symbol of our nation. It is where India’s flag is hoisted on Independence Day. Why should it be leased out? Sad and dark day in our history.”
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, in a tweet, said, “Stop Privatising India’s Heritage: The Parliamentary Committee that went into the issue of handing over heritage sites to private corporates had decided against this unanimously. Govt should reverse its decision of privatising the Red Fort.”
Reacting to the criticism, minister of state for tourism K.J. Alphons said that under a scheme started last year, the ministry is looking at public participation to develop heritage monuments.
“The companies involved in these projects will only spend and not make money. They will create amenities such as toilets and provide drinking water for the tourists so that their footfalls increase. They might put up signs outside to say that they have developed the amenities. If they are spending money, there is nothing wrong in taking credit for it,” he said.
“I want to ask the Congress what they did for the past 70 years? All the monuments and facilities around them are in terrible shape. In some places, there are no facilities at all,” he said.
As of March this year, 31 prospective “monument mitras” have been shortlisted by an oversight and vision committee for developing tourist-friendly amenities at 95 monuments, heritage and other tourist sites including the Red Fort, Qutub Minar (in Delhi), Hampi (Karnataka), Sun Temple (Odisha), Ajanta Caves (Maharashtra), Char Minar (Telangana) and Kaziranga National Park (Assam).
At the Red Fort, the Dalmia Bharat group has agreed to provide drinking water kiosks, street furniture-like benches and signages to guide visitors, according to the ministry.
The corporate entity has also agreed to put up within a year tactile maps, upgrade toilets, light up the pathways and bollards, carry out restoration work and landscaping and build a 1,000-square-foot visitor facility centre.
It will also provide a 3-D projection mapping of the fort’s interior and exterior, battery-operated vehicles and charging stations for such vehicles and a thematic cafeteria.
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the red sand stone fort, Qila-i-Mubarak, on the banks of Yamuna when he transferred the capital from Agra to Delhi. Architects Ustad Ahmad and Ustad Hamid oversaw the construction that began in 1638 and ended in 1648.
Spread over 256 acres, the fort is octagonal in shape and has two entrances — Lahori gate and Delhi gate. It stretches for 2 km by the Yamuna river. In 2007, the fort was declared a Unesco world heritage site.
The British destroyed most of the fort’s precious marble structures following the revolt of 1857 and started using it as a garrison. Since Independence till 2003, the Indian Army occupied a part of the fort. The Army was withdrawn after a terror attack in 2000.